Regarding veganism, many people think it’s all about eating leafy greens and beans. But while it is true that a vegan diet is healthy and ethical and can help reduce your carbon footprint, it’s also true that you can’t always avoid animal products—eat least in our society.
Leather shoes are made from animal skin, but some leather alternatives are vegan-friendly. Similarly, wool sweaters are made from sheep’s wool, but synthetic options exist too.
I’ve never been able to find an answer to this question: is it okay for vegans to buy second-hand items made from animals?
The answer depends on how you feel and how much you’re willing to compromise your ethics.
It seems complicated for vegans because we don’t want to support companies that treat animals poorly. But at the same time, we can’t afford new items all the time. And it feels wrong to throw away perfect products just because they’re not vegan-friendly.
That’s why there are two arguments: one against buying second-hand animal products and one in favor.
It’s Okay To Buy Second-Hand Animal Products
If you’re looking for second-hand goods, you have many options available—whether you want books, clothes, or even electronics, someone somewhere probably has something you like. You need to search around online until you find exactly what you need at the right price.
Thinking that vegans cannot wear second-hand animal fabrics because they do not use products of animal origin means only sticking to the definition of “vegan.”
In this case, we don’t consider the reality of the world we live in, which is non-vegan, and we don’t understand why most vegans are vegans.
Being vegan means not wanting to support or be part of the cruelty and exploitation of animals. Wearing second-hand animal fabrics means you are not contributing personally to creating demand for those fabrics. For example, buying a vintage leather garment does not directly contribute to the death of one or more animals. Buying brand-new leather would create demand that buying second-hand leather does not create.
When you need to buy something, second-hand goods are always the best choice, regardless of the fabric or material they are produced. Costs of materials, packaging, and shipping of a new product have different impacts on animals and the planet.
You may not like wearing animal materials because you may feel uncomfortable wearing something from a dead animal. Still, it’s a matter of what you are comfortable with—not a valid reason other vegans should not wear second-hand or recycled animal materials.
It’s Not Okay To Buy Second-Hand Animal Products
Animal products are animal products. By definition, vegans do not use products of animal origin: wearing animal fabrics, second-hand or not, is not technically vegan.
Wearing them reveals that it is desirable or acceptable to use animals for clothing, regardless of where or how you got your garment. If, for example, you wear leather, you become a symbol of acceptance of objects made with that material. Your item may be second-hand, but others may be influenced to buy new animal-derived garments because they like yours. Vegans who wear leather will confuse others as to what veganism stands for. It is already difficult to get most people to understand veganism, and if vegans wear leather, our cause becomes harder to understand.
Nowadays, many fantastic clothing and accessories are made with synthetic or natural non-animal materials. Even if you shop second-hand, you should be able to find a genuinely vegan version of what you want. The skin, for example, is still the skin of a dead animal. How can a vegan feel comfortable wearing it, knowing where it comes from and the cruelty those animals have endured? A non-vegan can avoid buying a new leather item if they have more second-hand ones available. By avoiding buying second-hand leather, you can indirectly contribute to the decrease in the demand for new leather to be produced, therefore saving more animals from suffering. If you inherit a leather item of clothing, you can donate it to a charity shop—this is an ethical and vegan choice. You no longer own an animal product and have positively contributed to a worthy cause.
So, What Should You Do?
My answer is you should buy second-hand animal goods. But with some caveats. I’m a vegan, and I buy second-hand stuff. Even though I know that animals are exploited in producing most of these things, it’s better to support a second-hand store or thrift shop than buy new goods.
But another part of me feels guilty about buying second-hand animal-made stuff. Am I being hypocritical?
Here’s my take: it’s not hypocritical for vegans to buy second-hand items made with animal products. But you should feel good about buying whatever you feel like buying! So if a specific item doesn’t make you feel good, don’t buy it or wear it.